Periscope Depth

I believe that love alone might do these things for you

Liz Caradonna responded to my post about self-promotion for amateur performers. Her response is great; go read.

Liz’s point is that the “asshole strategy” is rarely a conscious strategy per se.

If someone can explain to me “this is our marketing strategy because ______,” and reference some insight, some rationale and preferably some demonstrated results from the strategy they chose, I will gladly excuse them from this public outing, and would give serious consideration to their argument that in certain situations you have to be an insufferable douche to get fans.

My guess is that the typical improv group on Facebook cannot actually make that argument and back it up. They are not doing this because they’ve made a serious inquiry into a variety of marketing strategies, considered the cost and ROI, and settled on spamming their friends because they concluded that this would be the most efficient or effective thing to do, instead of or in addition to any of the other possible approaches to marketing (both assholey and otherwise).

This is likely true. I have a habit of ascribing good intentions to just about everyone. But it’s plausible that most people who spam Facebook haven’t given the costs and merits the same thought Liz or I do.

I maintain that the message-blast or invite-all has merit in certain circumstances (and I think Liz ultimately agrees). Here are some examples:

  • A brand new group forming. No one knows you exist yet. Announcing your presence to the world is reasonable.

  • A sea change in an established group. If the format of your weekly show undergoes some transformation that merits a fresh look, this is worth reaching for a new audience.

  • A big opportunity. You’re performing in a special venue, or with a famous act. It’s such a big deal that people who wouldn’t normally be interested might have their curiosity peaked.

Liz lists some questions that a group should ask themselves before they engage in any marketing plan, message-blast or no:

1. Aside from this Facebook event, what else are you doing to market your show in order to ensure that the seats are filled with paying customers who will likely continue to come back and see more of your shows? What else have you considered doing? Why did you choose to do this?

2. So far, how has this Facebook event contributed to ensuring that the seats are filled with paying customers who will likely continue to come back and see more of your shows? How does this contribution stack up against alternative marketing strategies – or no marketing at all?

To these I’d add the following:

3. Why do you want an audience? Why should someone see your show, as opposed to watching reruns of 30 Rock? Do you have a unique viewpoint to share? Has your group undergone a recent change in theme or style that deserves attention? Are you testing out different formats and looking for feedback? Or do you just want asses in seats? (I don’t mean the “just” in that last one as dismissively as it might read)

Answering question #3 should make a difference in not only who you target (large groups vs. select performers), but in how you target them. “Hey, come see my new improv troupe” tends to get overlooked. “Hey, we’re trying this new format that got huge buzz in New York last summer” is more compelling – to a recipient who cares about improv formats. If you know why you want an audience, you’ll know which audience to target.

Liz closes with addressing my point on the dilemma between art and friendship, “the last refuge of the natural misanthrope who finds himself also doing some type of art.” I don’t know that art justifies my misanthropy – gin does most of the heavy lifting there – but I’ll concede I drew the point a little broad.

The fact is, tension between being good to others and being successful in personal pursuits is universal – whether you’re an artist, a politician, a scientist or the world’s best garbage collector. Some people are good at managing this tension; some are not.

While this is true, art is unique, or at least an edge case, in that it’s not very rewarding. There’s no money in it and the fame, if any comes, is fleeting. You have to take pleasure in art for its own sake, which is a self-centered thing to do.

I’ve discussed this before, when Overthinking Season 1 of Treme.

Why is art such a struggle? Remember, art values the aesthetic over the utilitarian. Art deliberately avoids the utilitarian – the useful, the profitable, the merchandisable. You can make money off of art, but that’s largely out of your hands. If you want to make money, there are easier ways to do it.

Devoting yourself to improving your craft as a parent, a mechanic, a copywriter or a basketball player not only yields social dividends, but it comes with an extensive support structure. People love art, but they don’t understand the process. So indulging in the process takes a little more dedication. “I have to leave early because coach has me running two-a-days” gets more sympathy than “I have to leave early to go paint a sunset.”

Working hard at becoming an artist is fundamentally different* from working hard at any other task. The privacy required for composition, the conceit required for performance, guarantee that.

That said, Liz and I know people who prove that it’s possible to be both a dedicated performer and a great friend. I’ve even been known to pay for a round on occasion. So it can be done. But it’s not easy.

* Different, not nobler. Art is no nobler than any other craft, unless you mean the Versailles sense of “noble,” i.e. “indulgent; requiring luxury to patronize.”

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